This child’s destiny
Jesus’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and told his mother Mary, “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed—and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:28-35)
We know very little about this man, Simeon. He appears only here in Luke 2, where Luke describes him as righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel (Lk 2:25). While details are few, we learn more than enough to get an accurate sense of his character.
Simeon was a genuine believer. He did not make empty claims about his religion. He sincerely trusted in God and served him faithfully, which is evident by the fact that the Holy Spirit was on him (Lk 2:25). Day after day, year after year, he walked with God, led by the Holy Spirit, waiting for the consolation of Israel, which is to say he knew the Consoler—that is, the Comforter, the Encourager—was coming. Previously, it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah (Lk 2:26). He knew that day was coming within his lifetime.
Then, it happened. The day was probably similar to any other day when a relatively poor couple from Nazareth walks into the temple with their firstborn to be circumcised and dedicated to the Lord (Lk 2:23). Simeon immediately recognized the child.
When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him up in his arms, praised God, and said,
Now, Master, you can dismiss your servant in peace, as you promised. For my eyes have seen your salvation. You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples— a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to your people Israel. (Luke 2:27-32)
Simeon says, “Lord, you can take my life now. Not only have you fulfilled your promise to let me see the Christ with my own eyes, but also I know my life can never be better this moment.”
Have you ever longed for something you knew was coming? Have you ever waited and waited to finally see the day when your expectations would be satisfied? While many things never live up to the hype we’ve created in our minds, the appearance of Christ was not one of them. It was worth every ounce of expectation and more.
“Salvation is finally here,” Simeon shouts, “personified in an infant (Lk 2:30). He will be a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to your people Israel” (Lk 2:32).
Perhaps we should pause here to reflect on what would have been a very controversial statement in Simeon’s day. A light for revelation to the Gentiles? (Lk 2:32). Most Jews believed the Messiah was coming to rescue Israel by destroying Gentile nations. According to Simeon, however, Christ would be salvation to both Jews and Gentiles, which is precisely what the Old Testament prophesied. Do you remember the covenant God made with Abraham? He said, “I will make you into a great nation, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Ge 12:2, 3). All people—both Jews and Gentiles.
Unsurprisingly, Joseph and Mary are amazed at what Simeon said about Jesus (Lk 2:33). On the one hand, they already know their child is the Messiah. On the other hand, a total stranger, guided by the Spirit, is reaffirming and further clarifying what Gabriel has already told them (Lk 2:27). We should understand that Joseph and Mary did not walk away from Gabriel’s announcements with complete revelation. Even after Jesus died, rose again, and ascended into heaven, the disciples with whom he spent three years still failed to comprehend the fulness of what had taken place.
The pieces of the puzzle are still coming together for Joseph and Mary, and they learn from Simeon that some of those pieces are quite sobering.
“Indeed, Simeon says, “this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:34, 35).
As Jesus will later say, “Do you think that I came here to bring peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Lk 12:51). Jesus will cause a sharp divide in Israel and beyond because some will embrace him while others will oppose him. In fact, Christ remains the dividing line in the world today. There are believers, and there are unbelievers. There are God’s children, and there are the devil’s children (1Jn 3:10).
By the way, Israel’s rejection of Christ is a prominent theme in Luke’s Gospel. When Jesus later returns to his hometown of Nazareth early in his public ministry, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They got up, drove him out of town, and brought him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl him over the cliff (Lk 4:28, 29). Of course, Israel’s hostility eventually leads to the cross.
The apostle John summarizes the situation quite well when he writes, “This is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” (Jn 3:19). Rather than allow themselves to be exposed as the sinners they are, people would rather kill the light and remain in darkness. They’d rather cling to their self-righteous ignorance than be saved.
Simeon also inserts a personal word for Mary in this passage. He says, “A sword will pierce your soul” (Lk 2:35). Presumably, Joseph won’t live long enough to experience this pain along with Mary, so Simeon doesn’t address him.
If you read the Gospels carefully, you’ll notice that Jesus begins distancing himself from Mary fairly early. Even at twelve-years-old, he disappears for a few days. Once Mary finds him, he asks, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49).
At a wedding in Cana, Mary requests that Jesus perform his first public miracle by turning water into wine. Jesus replies to her, “What has this concern of yours to do with me, woman?” (Jn 2:4). To be clear, the term woman is not disrespectful in this context. Today, he might have called her ma’am. Even so, he doesn’t address her as mother, which signifies that his purpose as the Messiah is leading him away from his natural family. In fact, when Mary and his brothers come to see him later, he asks, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” (Mt 12:48). Then, he points to his disciples and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” (Mt 12:49).
Lastly, Mary will watch her son be mocked, tortured, and crucified. A sword will certainly pierce her soul” (Lk 2:35).
For all of the excitement and goodness the Messiah’s advent brings, we find more than a little darkness and tragedy in the gospel story as well.